Young and Stuck: Spain's Well-Educated Move Back to Madre

By Helene Zuber in Seville, Spain

As the euro crisis deepens in Spain, it is affecting a demographic that would seem relatively insulated: well-educated young people. Self-employed and lacking sufficient income, many are forced to move back in with their parents.

Jaime García, a 36-year-old architect, lives in Seville's historic center. To reach his office, he passes orange trees and walks through narrow streets past churches and the palaces of the nobility. Specializing in the restoration of historic buildings and run-down neighborhoods, García would seem to have chosen the right profession for living in this city, which was made wealthy 500 years ago by gold from Spain's colonies in South America.

But appearances are deceiving. Almost nothing that once glittered in the capital of the Spanish autonomous community of Andalusia is gold anymore. At nearly 36 percent, the region's unemployment is the highest on the Iberian Peninsula, according to figures for the last quarter of 2012, which were even more dismal than expected. The Spanish economy is mired in a deep recession, and it will be a long time before the government and businesses start hiring again. Some 302,500 people are looking for work in the province of Seville alone.

Times of 'Total Uncertainty'

"This year will shape my future," says García. Just as the real estate bubble was bursting, he and a former fellow student, Manuel Vivar, 35, decided to start a business under the promising name Dinamo. Now, says García, they either have to make enough money with renovations, "or I'll have to give up and try something completely different, like design or photography."

These are times of "total uncertainty" in Spain, says García. Hundreds of thousands of other young Spaniards are in the same position. Nationwide, more than half of people under 25 can't find jobs, while in Andalusia the figure is higher than 62 percent. Those who are a little older -- around 30 and well educated -- are seeing their lifelong dreams turn into failures.

Many are forced to do what García and Vivar have done. The two grown men gave up their apartments and moved back into their parents' homes, because they were no longer making enough money. According to figures by the European Union statistics agency Eurostat, 37.8 percent of Spaniards under 35 are now living with their parents.

Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel, decried in Spain as Europe's taskmistress, has suggested taking active measures. Last week the socialist opposition to Spain's conservative government proposed a pact against unemployment. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy now wants to lend a hand to young self-employed people and company founders under 30, in particular, by reducing their tax liability and social security contributions.

In 2012 alone, 150,000 people between 25 and 29 who were looking for work decided to leave Spain. One of García's former partners moved to Mexico. The fourth architect in the Dinamo office gave up the field altogether.

'A New Solidarity'

But García, sitting now in his unheated office, is determined to persevere. Despite everything, he prefers to stay in the country. "So much is happening here now. The people have woken up, and a new solidarity is taking shape. I want to be a part of solving our society's problems."

He even looked around in neighboring Morocco in his search for commissions. Many of the large Spanish construction companies have tried to gain a foothold there, but now the construction cranes in Morocco are idle, as well. García returned home disappointed.

García and Vivar each pay €500 ($675) per month for office rent and social security contributions. They take part in contests for public buildings, as well as Europe-wide bids. But rarely is the prize money enough to cover the cost of drawings and models. They would not survive without the support of their parents.

The fact that García is now sleeping in his old room again has already cost him his relationship. He lived with his girlfriend for four years. "She wanted to get married and have children," he says. But the young architect, who was doing well during the years of the real estate boom, is no longer able to make any plans for the future. Although he isn't giving up yet, he says that he can't be a burden on his family for much longer.

Diplomas and Stuffed Animals

"No one wants to be supported," says Begoña Fariñas with a smile, but with a touch of bitterness in her voice. She turned 30 on Sunday, but she still hasn't managed to leave behind her mother's three-room apartment on the outskirts of Seville.

Fariñas, a petite woman with a long girlish haircut, completed her state examination in education in 2006, and then earned additional credits to qualify for adult education. She also obtained two masters' degrees. Still, she hasn't managed to move out of her apple-green children's room, complete with stuffed animals on the pullout sofa.

At first she made almost nothing working as an intern in the personnel department of a telecommunications company in Andalusia. Then she spent four-and-a-half years running a retraining program for the unemployed in a union-backed foundation. She also periodically received short-term contracts for work that paid about €1,000 a month. She was forced to file frequently for unemployment benefits between jobs. But when the government of Andalusia sharply reduced funding for retraining about a year ago, the foundation stopped giving her work. And she has already used up all the unemployment funds available to her.

"I'm an ant," says Fariñas -- small but industrious. She sits at her little schoolgirl's desk for almost three hours a day, under the moon-and-stars mobile that once hung above her crib, searching the Internet for job openings. She writes applications and makes calls to the personnel directors of large companies throughout Spain.

Now Fariñas is thinking about working abroad as a nanny. Her divorced mother has a job in a travel agency, but her hours have been reduced. Fariñas makes lunch for both of them, the way it was in the old days. "I'm falling back into the life I was leading when I was 18," says Fariñas. In her tight jeans and baggy sweater, she almost looks like a teenager.

The crisis caught up with Fariñas just as she and her boyfriend were searching for an apartment, because they wanted to start a family. "We used to travel, go out on weekends and eat in restaurants," says Fariñas. "Now I'm stuck." She's referring to both her personal and professional lives. "It's exasperating."

Her fiancé Ricardo, 35, lost his job as a motorcycle salesman. With some money from his parents, he opened a bicycle shop. Mountain biking in the hills around Seville is the latest trend, he says. But the shop, in which all of his savings are tied up, isn't generating any income yet, so he has moved back into his parents' house as well.

An Uphill Battle

Alberto Barrios has a similar story. Shortly before his 30th birthday, he returned home to his parents, both government employees in Jerez de la Frontera. The city, which gives sherry its name, is the most highly indebted municipality in Spain. But that didn't stop Barrios from opening his own business there. He has a degree in business administration, as well as an additional diploma in advertising and public relations, and he also spent two years studying computer science. Barrios developed an app for Android smartphones and the iPhone: a constantly up-to-date digital guide to Jerez.

Before then Barrios, a heavy-set bearded man, did everything possible to find work. He worked part-time in the marketing department at the local newspaper, as a high-school janitor and on the assembly line at a sherry factory. He never applied for unemployment benefits.

He drove to Madrid to call on companies directly. But it was all in vain. Now he relies on his "gift of gab" to persuade business owners, club operators and bar managers in Jerez to advertise their businesses on his app.

Barrios calls himself an optimist. He has already had up to 8,000 users at peak times. But after expenses he has only €300 in monthly income left for himself. The €50 discounted health insurance premium the government is considering would help him, but he has just exceeded the maximum age limit.

Barrios raves about his mother's good cooking. And yet, he says, "my dream is to make myself independent of mama and papa."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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